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From Congressional Staff to Bringing America Home NOW

Written by admin on . Posted in Blog

By Zach Bernstein

Joel Segal has spent the last several decades answering a question that plagues activist organizations while he worked on Capital Hill as well as out in the field—how do we get things done? His vast wealth of experience with outreach, activism, and policymaking at every level of government has allowed him to gain a thorough understanding of how to make change actually happen. Segal is a problem-solver, utilizing a systemic understanding of issues to craft policy solutions to resolve those problems with a conviction that we can overcome barriers facing the voters through collaboration and setting a goal to make change happen. Segal was recently hired to take on the campaign of the National Coalition for the Homeless “Bring America Home Now“—a comprehensive strategy to end homelessness in the United States. 

Show them how to solve it, and how to pay for it,” he said. “Get experts together and write bills—but do it with the people impacted. Then you’ve got to pass the bill.” Segal’s intense focus on helping those experiencing oppression is what sets him apart from most other policymakers in DC. “We can’t dance around be nice to the system,” he said. “You’ve got to shine a big mirror, show them this is what you’re doing to people.” Making people aware of the struggles of others and amplifying the voices of the oppressed is a major part of Segal’s strategy, one which lends itself to a model of social justice which is intent on making things happen.

One of Segal’s major achievements has been as a pioneer of the universal healthcare movement and as a co-writer of the original Medicare for All Bill as a staffer for Rep. John Conyers, introduced in Congress in 2003. Segal’s fight for Medicare for All began when he was kicked out of George Washington University Hospital for being uninsured. After the experience he promised himself he would start a universal healthcare movement—and he did just that. He began by meeting and getting to know other uninsured people online, then he began attending meetings of the Gray Panthers, an activist group, with whom he discussed the possibility of fighting for universal healthcare. He started holding town hall meetings on the issue, and eventually launched his campaign with a speech on the steps of the Capitol with Rep. Barney Frank and then-Rep. Bernie Sanders. 

Four weeks later, Segal was hired to the staff of Rep. Conyers, with whom he traveled to congressional districts around the country, holding town halls to promote the cause of universal healthcare. He brought together people who were uninsured, activists, and members of Congress. Segal firmly believes in the power of town hall meetings—they “take the emotion and anger and frustration, and bring it right to the doorstep of elected officials and civil society leaders,” he says. More importantly, town halls transform people’s feelings. “People aren’t going to talk to homeless people,” he remarked. “You have to bring the pain and suffering to them.” Segal also advocated for a systemic approach: “Always try to show how structural deficits create an amazing amount of trauma and pain that is immoral. Just because you have a system that’s in place doesn’t mean that it’s a moral system.” 

The next step is to organize around policies, says Segal. Mobilize in the streets, and then pass reforms, he says. Segal is insistent that legislation should be the most important goal of the movement, saying that while suburban activists may deny the importance of policy, legislation has the power to make a real difference to the lives of people living in shelters or on the street. Always tie your activism to legislation, always march with a purpose, he said. That’s how you create a movement.

Segal centers his activism around building passionate communities. In order to build a movement, “you’ve got to find the right people,” he believes. Building communities and families with similar interests, compassionate hearts and sometimes a little humor is the key to successful organizing. Segal cites his Jewish heritage and upbringing as a major inspiration for this philosophy. For thousands of years, he explained, the Jewish people survived by laughing, by caring for each other, and by enjoying life—even in the face of great adversity. This is the sort of community Segal seeks to emulate in the movements he creates. “You don’t build a community by being corporate,” he said. Building a community by fashioning relationships with one another is how you create a successful movement. And, he pointed out, by building those relationships, people who aren’t necessarily invested in the specific issue will offer support if they like the person pitching their support and if they have developed a connection. 

But it’s not always such smooth sailing for Segal—he is as aware as anyone that the work of an activist can be discouraging. But, he said, “righteous indignation will keep you going.” He recalled some work he did in Congress, when he and others plastered the halls with a laminated picture of an uninsured family. That’s what keeps him going, Segal reflected. There are poor people, sick people, and seniors in this country with no rights to healthcare or housing—“and those are things they can’t live without,” he said. “We’re the richest country in the world, so we’ve got to figure this out.” “Go where the pain is, keep with those people, walk with them,” he said. Doing that, seeing and understanding the hardships they are going through, should get you through any discouragement.

It’s important to Segal that he always walks with the people he’s trying to help, never above them. He always is sure to organize “the people at the tip of the oppression” first in order to build communities based on love and care. In one story he told, Segal started up an emergency winter shelter by taking over a park with about 120 people from a shelter, promising the people living in tents they wouldn’t be left out in the cold. The key, Segal recalled, was going directly to the people in the tents and teaching them how to organize, how to do TV interviews and other such skills. Segal is well-practiced in building bridges, especially with people with whom he, or the organization he is working with, might have little in common. “Respect the person when you first meet them and ask them what they are working on,” he said. The most important thing, he advised, is to ensure “everyone benefits from the work you are doing. That’s how you build a coalition.”  He will work to organize diverse communities to put in place legislation that fundamentally changes the injustice that every unhoused person in America understands and has to overcome with BAHN.

“The problem with this country is we evolved into a Reagan nation,” Segal said—a nation where you look out for yourself and no one else. “How do we get people to care about each other again?” Segal wondered. “How do we get that back, just caring about each other?” That, Segal emphasized, is the crucial work of any activist but especially those working on behalf of a traditionally marginalized group. Not only must we fight for our political goals, but to do that we need to build coalitions, build power and in the end build families. By creating families of people dedicated to a cause, we can get things done. We can bring the pain of the people to the doorsteps of the powerful; we can get people to understand that pain; and most importantly we can write bills and pass laws to alleviate that suffering. Segal firmly believes that we can make the world a better place by working with one another. “There’s nothing more powerful than caring about each other,” he said as he begins his journey to Bring America Home. 

Updated resources for Preventing Eviction

Written by admin on . Posted in Blog

The pandemic has caused great disruption in our economy. But even before COVID started to spread across the world, decades of institutional racism had caused racially-based inequity in housing, education, employment, criminal justice, civil rights and health care. It is this underlying discrimination, plus ongoing political inaction to address the root causes of homelessness, that has left the U.S. with a situation where our emergency housing systems are in no way capable of assisting millions of households that may become homeless.

Our systems are already overwhelmed – We do not need another big wave of homelessness!

State and Local Guide to getting help

Read more about the current situation and need for rental assistance during the ongoing pandemic economic downturn:

Legal and Institutional Resources:

State and City Rental Assistance Examples:

End of the CDC Eviction Moratorium is an Emergency that must be Addressed!

Written by admin on . Posted in Press Releases

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The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) and the National Organization for Women (NOW), along with advocates, tenants, and community leaders will gather in late October, in Washington, DC, and communities across the country to push for the prevention of anyone falling into homelessness.

National Organization for Women and National Coalition for the Homeless call for addressing the emergency of evictions

“The homeless social service sector cannot accommodate any more people during this national health emergency with rising levels of COVID-19 in many communities. There are millions of dollars sitting on the table from the federal government and we need state and local officials to move mountains to get rental assistance out to those facing evictions,” said NCH executive director Donald Whitehead.  

In August, CNBC reported 11 million households are behind on their rent, but even if only 1 million get evicted the homeless shelters and services will collapse. Whitehead said that shelters have had to de-concentrate due to the pandemic and do not have the means of taking more people in to provide a safe place to stay while they look to find other housing options.  

We are urging the Governors to do whatever they can to stop any evictions into homelessness or they will see the huge rise in those living outside that Washington DC, San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, Miami, Austin, and Phoenix have seen over the last year.  

The Problem

As of Thursday, August 26, 2021, the federal moratorium on evictions related to COVID was lifted. As many as 35 million people in the United States, whose livelihoods have been negatively impacted by pandemic-related economic shut down, are at risk of homelessness. 

What’s more, there are hundreds of thousands of people and families who were placed into hotel rooms with CARES Act funding that is due to expire. Many of these folks will be forced back onto the streets, and into congregate shelters, with desperately increased risk of contracting COVID.

This is a massive economic and public health crisis, disproportionately affecting people of color. We must protect individuals and families – and especially our children and youth.

What we Know

Without safe housing, millions of people will be forced into congregate settings, increasing the risk of transmitting COVID-19, at a time when hospitals are operating at capacity.  

Lack of capacity at the state and local level, combined with bureaucratic red tape, has prevented up to 75% of aid from the Federal government from reaching renters and desperate to maintain their housing. 

Even though it is illegal, there is the danger that families forced back into homelessness risk losing custody of their children. Studies have shown overwhelmingly that safe housing has more to do with a child’s wellbeing and achievement than any other single factor. 

People who are unhoused face targeted enforcement and criminalization of life-sustaining activities. This over-criminalization separates families, eliminates employment options and further jeopardizes the mental and physical health of those affected.

What has been done

Through the CARES Act and the American Recovery Plan, the federal government has allocated over $85 Billion to housing and homelessness programs, including $25 billion specifically for Emergency Housing Vouchers. Many communities have used these recovery dollars to house folks temporarily in hotel and motel rooms, and further secure individual housing accommodations. But many of these programs are closing and people are being returned to congregate shelters or the streets.

The U.S. Treasury has provided explicit direction to local agencies distributing funds to allow renters and landlords to attest to their need without onerous documentation. The U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA), Health and Human Services (HHS), Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Veterans Affairs (VA) have also taken action to protect and support vulnerable renter households. The Secretaries of HUD and Treasury, along with the Attorney General, wrote a letter to governors, mayors, county Executives, and chief Justices and state court administrators to issue their own moratoria, stay evictions while rental assistance applications process, and use ERA and State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds to enhance tenant access to legal representation. 

But we know that landlords and eviction courts are eager to start processing evictions that have been held up. We know too that without legal representation, tenants overwhelmingly are not able to exercise their full rights to remain in housing.

What we Need

NOW and NCH are urging local and state elected officials to assign additional staff, enlist every housing non-profit in their communities to get this money to the people in need! Additionally, struggling Americans need:

  • Congress to pass legislation halting any eviction until ERA and Recovery applications are fully processed. 
  • Emergency Rental Assistance and other recovery programs should assume presumptive eligibility, instead of forcing long drawn out documentation of need. 
  • Landlords should get paid all back rent, either through direct payment and/or tax credit within 30 days.
  • There needs to be broad civic education on renter rights and eviction and homelessness prevention, in addition to ending and addressing the underlying causes of poverty and homelessness.

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The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH), founded in 1981, is the oldest national organization focused on ending homelessness in America.  It is a national network of people currently experiencing or who have experienced homelessness, activists and advocates, community-based and faith-based service providers, and others committed to their mission of: To end and prevent homelessness while ensuring the immediate needs of those experiencing homelessness are met and their civil rights protected. NCH’s advocacy addresses the root causes of homelessness including lack of affordable housing, and partnering to write landmark legislation including the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987. 


The National Organization for Women is the largest grassroots organization of feminist activists in the United States. NOW has hundreds of thousands of contributing supporters and members in chapters in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Since its founding in 1966, NOW’s purpose is to take action through intersectional grassroots activism to promote feminist ideals, lead societal change, eliminate discrimination, and achieve and protect the equal rights of all women and girls in all aspects of social, political, and economic life.

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